Business, Private Eye, United Kingdom - Mon June 25, 2012

FOOD HYGIENE: Kitchen stink

WHEN award-winning Irish butcher Jack O’Shea, who supplied meat to many of Britain’s top celebrity chefs, was kicked out of Selfridges last month, the department store said it was for failing to adhere to “exacting best practices in hygiene and food”.

What it failed to say was that Selfridges management had turned a blind eye to serious health hazards presented by the Irish master butcher for almost the entire duralion of his three-year concession – and only ended it after a freelance reporter confronted them with a dossier of damning photographs, health inspection reports and whistleblowers’ allegations.

O’Shea, an eighth-generation Tipperary butcher, had allowed cooked and raw meat to be prepared on the same uncovered work surfaces, creating a serious risk of bacterial crosscontamination. Vacuum packing machines were also used to seal both raw and cooked meat. Meat was stored and sold past its sell-by date and was misleadingly relabelled. Some products were also defrosted at room temperature and then sold as “fresh”. Others were imported from as far away as Australia and relabelled as ‘·Irish”.

Photographs also showed boxes of festering meat and mouldy bread. One disgusted employee walked out, but not before handing over a sharply worded resignation letter detailing O’Shea’s “very cavalier attitude to health and safety”.

One of the most revolting allegations was that staff would urinate in a bucket in the kitchen because Selfridges’ statTlavatories, five minutes down the hall, were too far to walk during a busy shift. “When I confronted you about this, you said you were aware of it and laughed,” the letter said. Others have said the urine was emptied into sinks that were subsequently used to defrost bacon.

Insiders say O’Shea got away with it because he was charming and generated good publicity. ButjUSl before Christmas he hit the headlines for being caught selling (out-of·date) foie gras to customers from his counter in Selfridges. Favoured clients would utter the code word “French fillet” and Jack would retreat to his larder before returning with blocks of fattened goose liver, flouting the store’s ban on the controversial product.

However, O’Shea remained very much a part of Selfridges’ world until a week after it received the dossier. After telling the journalist it would investigate and provide a “substantive reply” to allegations, O’Shea was dumped. Selfridges issued a statement saying it had been working with the butcher since October to improve hygiene and food safety. In fact, many of the hygiene problems had been flagged up repeatedly by the store’s own internal inspectors since April 2009.

Whether any of the meat O’Shea continued to supply to his celebrity clients was ever compromised is not known – but they must be wondering. When contacted, he complained that Selfridges had “only given me eight hours to pack my bags and go”, but he declined to discuss the issue further, saying the store had “told me not to speak to anyone”. No guesses why.

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